GSM tracking without GPS

If you use the Google Maps Mobile function then the big G knows where you are even if your phone doesn’t have a GPS module in it. So the next time you want geolocation capabilities in a project consider building around GSM functionality which can also be used for Internet connectivity. That’s exactly what this module does and luckily the hard work has already been done for you.

The method really hinges on a couple of things. First of all, any GSM capable device knows the information about the cell it is currently communicating with. Secondly, Google knows the coordinates of radio towers used in the cellular mobile network. A little bit of data sniffing on Google Maps Mobile app communications confirms how and when cell information is transferred between the device and the maps server. Take a look at this series of write-ups which go into detail about hardware, software, cell network location data, and communication protocols which Google hasn’t publicly documented. Sure you’re not going to have the accuracy we’ve come to enjoy with GPS, but this can get you pretty close.

[Thanks Boris]

15 thoughts on “GSM tracking without GPS

  1. At least with 3G connection and recent (>2008) Nokia mobile phone without GPS chip you can get to 100m accuracy. Without 3G connection, accuracy is around 1000m. However, all this depends how many cell towers there are around. This is nothing new really and even when using GPS chip, tower information is used also.

  2. The number of cells determines the accuracy of the information. In the center of the city could be very accurate, less accurate away from the city. Check the firmware is very nice.

  3. You can always track CellID, Location Area and signal strength with AT commands. If I get BT GPS module, I’m gonna map some BTSes in Gdynia, PL.
    But in urban areas it’s still inferior in terms of accuracy compared to WiFi location.

  4. Google maps on my Nokia E65 can consistently pinpoint me inside my home (in an urban environment). It works great.

    (Oh, and no, it’s not using Wifi (although I have it); in fact, it couldn’t because the phone wasn’t picking up any AP at the time).

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